Today’s cover story of Der Spiegel seems to lead to controversy and confusion: Eamonn Fitzgerald claims that the magazine sinks to an all-time low, Jeff Jarvis is disturbed by the fact that European media are giving 9-11 conspiracy theories any attention at all. Unfortunately, neither seems to have read the story, as SadlyNo has already pointed out. Copyright restrictions and personal laziness prevent a full translation of the 16 page article, but I have tried to summarize the most important points.
Update: The main article is now available in English.
For those unfamiliar with Der Spiegel: It is Germany’s leading news magazine, somewhat similar to — but thicker than — Newsweek or Time Magazine. You may have seen a book written by Spiegel journalists: Inside 9-11 is an extremely detailed account of the events which has become a best-seller in several countries. Currently, the magazine runs another long series about the war in Iraq with little conspiracy elements, e.g. explaining the controversial attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in detail and attributing it to human error.
To quote the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Der Spiegel „is widely respected both for its coverage of news events and news analysis and for its concise writing, and it is generally regarded as one of the best news weeklies in Europe.“ On the other hand, its aggressive, sometimes sneering tone of voice has also been attacked in Germany. Der Spiegel can be placed on the moderate liberal side of the political spectrum, but the magazine is certainly not one-sided when it comes to criticism.
Panopticum of the absurd: The main article starts by presenting four books (by Meyssan, von Bülow, Wisneswki and Bröckers/Hauß) which claim to raise doubts about the 9-11 events. The introductory section tries to explain the pattern behind conspiracy theories and how they simplify the understanding of world events. Exaggerated scenarios of the Iraqi threat, the Iran Contra affair and Operation Northwoods – a 1960s U.S. military plot to accuse Cuba of shooting down a passenger plane – are mentioned as plans which are no inventions, but which failed in the end.
In the next section called Zombie terrorists, the magazine traces the birth of a legend: Both Bröckers/Hauß and von Bülow point to BBC and British newspaper reports from 23 September about claims that several suspects are in fact alive and well. Der Spiegel traces it back to an Arab newspaper which interviewed a pilot whose photo was erroneously shown on CNN. Other alleged surviving hijackers turn out to be people with similar names. Der Spiegel harshly criticizes the kind of research done by the conspiracy book authors: „If you carry a hammer around with you, you see nails everywhere.“
The Spiegel article turns to the book authors‘ vita and claims that leaving out important information is their most important trick. The authors conveniently ignore the story of the Hamburg group of terrorists led by Mohammed Atta. Since several sources from Hamburg make it quite clear that Atta was a fanatical person, authors even claim that Atta had a double. Der Spiegel comments that the specific author has departed completely from reality.
The next section is called „Where were the Jews?“. Von Bülow claims that only one „Israeli victim“ was killed in the attacks, insinuating that others in the WTC building have been warned before. Der Spiegel counters these claims by quoting Abraham Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League: At least 400 Jewish victims have been counted, there are probably more.
Finally, the Spiegel article takes on two allegations: Wisnewski suggests that the UA 93 flight never crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA; Wisneswki and Meyssan claim that the Pentagon was never hit by a plane. Der Spiegel shows how the authors have manipulated witness statements, mentions other witness accounts and reports where the remains of the UA 93 plane have been placed. The cruise missile theory is countered by calculating the weight and amount of fuel in the plane and asking experts about the expected effects. Again, the conspiracy authors take witness statements out of context and base their claims on other conspiracy theorists.
That’s the end of the main article, which is accompanied by two shorter ones: The first sifts through other big conspiracy theories – ranging from the „moon hoax“ to the alleged assassination of Princess Diana -, the second is about Internet hoaxes and how they spread legends and lies. To sum it up: Der Spiegel rips apart the „evidence“ compiled by the conspiracy book authors. SadlyNo has it right — „Maybe sometimes you can’t judge a Spiegel by its cover.“